KM Practitioner Interview Series: Praba Nair

We first met Praba Nair when Straits Knowledge was still a startup. That was more than 10 years ago. At that time, Praba was the Director of the KM Competency Centre at NCS, a Singapore IT company. We would meet each other at conferences and society meets. Many years passed hence when we did not hear anything about him. Last year, he invited me to deliver a KM e-learning programme with him for the Asian Productivity Organization (APO). It was during this time that I found out that Praba hadn’t abandoned KM but had been working quietly away in the Asia Pacific region. That KM practitioners may be doing interesting but little known work is the inspiration behind this post - hopefully the first of a series.


Praba Nair is Principal Consultant at KDi Asia and Resource Person for KM with the Asian Productivity Organization (APO). He teaches Human Resource Management and Change Management at the Singapore Institute of Management in their undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, as well as at the Nanyang Technological University. Previously, he worked for NCS, where he was Director of the KM Competency Centre.

What project are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on a project in Sri Lanka to reduce the maternal mortality rate (MMR) in two of their tea plantations. The MMR in plantation estates are higher than the national average. This is due to socio-cultural background of the estate population and the difficult terrain and long distances that pregnant women have to travel to get obstetrics care. It can sometimes take between 2-3 hours for paramedics to reach the estates. There is also a general lack of awareness regarding health issues among estate workers.

The project focused on identifying the knowledge gaps of the health care providers and receivers of the preventive and curative maternal health care services in the tea plantation estate sector. For the sustainability of the project is was necessary to involve the estate community. As part of the project, forty volunteers – about twenty per estate – went around the estate educating pregnant women on what they need to take care of, such as the supplements that they need to take. The outreach programme extended to the pregnant women’s husbands, who were educated about the perils of drinking and smoking. We also taught the estate workers basic housekeeping.

We set up a KM Centre in the Gampola Base Hospital for knowledge sharing between doctors, nurses and paramedics. We set up a hotline for the two estates, whereby consultants can give advice to the estate medical staff for the high risk pregnant women while help gets to them. This is available 24 hours 7 days a week.

I find this project especially fulfilling as we have seen tangible results. The mortality rate has gone down. The health of estate workers has improved. Productivity has also improved according to the superintendents of the two estates. For the first time, there was community participation. When there was a union strike, the workers could not work but they took to cleaning the estate instead of drinking away. And they did this without being told by their superintendent.

Due to the success of the project, other tea plantation estates have approached us to do something similar. We are now planning to set up a committee on KM at the national level. This committee will look at KM beyond the tea plantation sector.

How do you account for the success of this project?

We involved the stakeholders. A Steering Committee and a Working Committee were formed. Before the start of the project, we brainstormed and reached a consensus on what outcomes they wanted, and what KPIs to track.

We do not just concentrate on knowledge but on the whole ecosystem. We start with the business angle first, then we figure out how KM can help.

What are some of the challenges and lessons learnt?

You need people who are committed, especially the leadership. In Sri Lanka, the person who first approached APO for assistance was the Visiting Obstetrician/Gynecologist at the Gampola Base Hospital, who attended my e-learnng course on KM. We convinced the Director of the hospital that the KM programme would benefit the hospital. The Director was made Chair of the Steering Committee. He was concerned with patient management and satisfaction. I advised him that improvement in hospital facilities was also part of patient management. We managed to brief the Minister of Health and the Governor of the region, and we were able to get funding for hospital facilities such as provision of Entonox during labour and additional operating theatres.

As for challenges, people are too busy and they have different, conflicting agenda. Resources are also limited. We had to find various means to get resources from different ministries and NGOs.

A few key stakeholders of the tea estates initially showed little interest in the project. However, when we managed to show tangible results they were more supportive and provided the necessary resources and funds.

What keeps you going?

It’s the fulfillment I get from seeing great results and the impact it has made to the recipients and communities. I still take on these projects despite my busy schedule because they are very meaningful.

What challenges are you taking on next?

I see a close link, a synergy between KM and innovation. I’m working on a framework that integrates KM with Innovation. I just need to find the time to work on it.

Interview done on 15 December 2015 at a pub somewhere in the west of Singapore. Praba can be reached at this address.

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